Children climb a tree limb at Morris Arboretum. (Photo by Pete Mazzaccaro)

by Jan Alex

In a new initiative organized by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education and the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department, CHOP pediatricians are prescribing a powerful new pharmaceutical for kids. This drug is intended to combat childhood obesity, attention-deficit disorder,and a newly identified disease that is plaguing the nation’s young: nature-deficit disorder.

Now, you might be asking yourself questions such as: What is this miracle drug? How much does it cost? Well, the answer is that this drug might just be found in your backyard and probably won’t cost you a dime. It’s trees. More specifically, nature and outdoor activities.

This new program, called NaturePHL, is designed to get kids into the outdoors and to be more active. The program’s website describes NaturePHL as “[a] collaborative program [that] brings together physicians, clinicians, educators, public health advocates, park and recreation agencies and other organizations to offer outdoor activity prescriptions for Philadelphia families.”

The website adds: “NaturePHL connects families with healthy outdoor play in their neighborhoods through education about health benefits, incentives, and resources.”

The program will be launched in August in the form of a pilot program at CHOP’s primary care offices in Cobbs Creek and Roxborough. It will be a standard part of check-ups for all children ages 5-12 and prescriptions will take many different forms. Patients will be screened, given a talk about the importance of daily outdoor activity and referred to the new website: The website will provide comprehensive maps and guides to the city’s parks.

Some patients will get more comprehensive counseling. Prescriptions might include detailed plans for a hike or other outdoor activity. Patients will also be connected with “nature navigators,” or community health care workers who will create personalized plans for each patient and work actively to help them achieve their goals.